Saturday, May 21, 2011

Family Radio and the Return of Christ

I discovered Family Radio in 1988, shortly after moving to Berkeley to attend seminary. Broadcast in the Bay Area from neighboring Oakland, I became a bit more familiar a couple of years later when I my parents gave me a shortwave radio while I was on internship in Helena, Montana.

One of Family Radio's features was the nightly "Open Forum," where people could call in to ask any question they had about the Bible or Christian faith. "Brother Camping" was the host. He'd clearly read the Bible throughly, and most of his responses put him solidly within conservative, perhaps even "Fundamentalist" (at least in its original Calvinist formulation) American protestantism. The program wasn't flashy and his manner of speaking wasn't particularly eloquent. In fact, he rather downplayed himself, focussing on how he read the Bible. You could hear the pages of his King James Bible turn as he moved from the caller's question to his finished answer.

Like many "self-taught" Bible interpreters, he could get stuck on some peculiar notions. But one thing he impressed me with was his response to one set of questions that kept coming up over and over again, that is, the "Rapture" and the return of Christ. On one hand he could tell you, based on his studies and computations, when God created the world. But as for when it was ending, that was not for us to know, or even worry about. Christ is returning, but when He was asked He said, "I do not know." Thus neither do we.

Then I noticed him answering the question, "Where can I find a true Bible believing church?" with (essentially), "Don't bother looking any more. They're all apostate, though in a few places there are faithful house churches I could direct you to. Better, take your Bible, and worship at home with your family according to these Bible principles...." It turns out that this advice started after he left the church in which he had been a member.

Nevertheless, shortly after arriving in Peoria, I was surprised (though since he'd separated himself from the church, I ought not have been so) when Camping published a book (that the local "evangelical" bookstore was selling) in which he stated that Christ might be returning September 6, 1994. When he'd talk about it on Family Radio, he hedged his bets a much as possible, but people took notice. I figured when it didn't happen, Brother Camping learned his lesson. And every once in a while, I'd turn the radio dial and catch him (via shortwave or up in Chicagoland) on Family Radio, sounding much older and fumbling a bit as he turned the pages of his Bible to find the answer to his caller's question. Or, sometimes, not find what he was looking for, which could sometimes lead to a short discourse on some other matter that popped into his head.

So I was rather surprised to learn that he'd gone back into the prediction business, and that today (the 120th anniversary of my grandmother's birth) is the Rapture.

Frankly, it seems to me that the secular media is making a bigger thing of this than anyone else (besides Brother Camping's Family Radio, that is, and a few of his listeners). As for what this Christian pastor thinks about the date of the Rapture or the return of Christ, I think Canon Kendall Harmon wrote well this morning on his TitusOneNine blog:
Since my area of specialization in research is eschatology, I have gotten a lot of questions about a certain individual (and his entourage of followers) getting a lot of press this past little while for stating the time of the end of the world (he thinks it is soon). I refuse to post stories on this because I am not going to give him/his group any more publicity.

As for what I think, my answer is simple--I refer you to Mark 13 in which Jesus says:
"But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come (verses 24-33, RSV).
This is a difficult passage, because it comes in answer to a double question, but I think it is rightly understood at the end to be referring to Jesus' second coming and the "end of the world." Do you notice what he says? Not even Jesus knows.

So if Jesus says he doesn't know, and if history is littered with examples of people who have confidently predicted the day with certainty and later were shown to be wrong, why should we presume to say we know? That it is coming and that it is coming "soon" we can be sure, the New Testament is quite clear on that. But as for when exactly, we don't know. I do not know. Part of being a dependent creature is to admit there are things we simply do not know--that isn't a bad thing, it is actually a key part of Christian witness--KSH.
And if you really want to see Jesus, show up Sunday mornings during the nine o'clock hour Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peoria (or the appointed time in one of many other churches) and I'll show Him to you. And when He returns in His glory to judge the living and the dead, you might be better prepared -- whenever He comes.


Zahid Hussain said...

Hi Pastor Zip,

You know the Family radio is broadcast all over the world on the shortwave radio. A few years back When I was listening to radio I came across this station i.e Family radio. It was evening time at around 8 Pm. I listened to the the Open Forum and Mr camping emphasised the end of the world. I thought this was ridiculous to say that the world would end on certain day. How can a man predict the End by quoting from the Bible. This time he also failed on May 21. By the way I am a Muslim and it is tantamount to sin predict the end of the world.

One thing I forgot to tell you that Family radio was also broadcast into my mother tongue which is Sindhi spoken by 50 million people in Sindh, Pakistan.

How did he got so much funding for his Radio?

Zahid Hussain from Pakistan

Anonymous said...

Edward said...

I listen to the local "Family Radio" station. I have found it to be a sorce for music and Christian Reading. When ever I hear Howard Camping I turn to another station. He's a NUT. Camping say's that churches are Apostite ,then how come they play choir music? Many of the great hymns are those we sing in Lutheran churches. My pastor quoted his father ,also a Lutheran pastor, "The Mormons have great music Lousy theology". Camping has great music ,but he's a NUT.

Steve Martin said...

Right, Edward. I listen to Family Radio.

Great music. Love the reading from the Scriptures. But Camping is a nut job.